If you’re having a hard time caring for a family member or friend, chances are there are lingering wounds in the relationship. But choosing the path of forgiveness can heal even the most fractured bonds. Take it from filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum, whose emotional abuse as a child made her feel like she was born into the wrong family. Her relationship with her mother was especially harsh, but Gayle chose the path of forgiveness and chronicled her journey with her mother from enemies to friends in the film, “Look At Us Now, Mother!” Gayle shares the back story on her funny, short film “My Nose” and tells us how audience reaction to the film led her to make “Look At Us Now, Mother!” She explains how digging into her mother’s past helped to heal their relationship, and she tells us how she’s using what she learned from her experience to help people discover the power of forgiveness. Gayle also tells us how her 96-year-old mother is handling her fame from the movie in her Boca Raton, Florida community, and why her mother is still the life of the party.
Gayle Kirschenbaum website and TEDx talk
JANA PANARITES (HOST): The number one cause of death in America is heart disease, but scientific studies show that the act of forgiveness lowers the risk of heart disease and blood pressure and has other physiological benefits. And the act of forgiveness can heal relationships of all kinds, including those with the deepest roots, like the relationship with your parents. I’ve heard from more than a few grown children that lingering wounds often lead them to resist and even resent caring for their aging parents. But choosing the path of forgiveness offers a healthy alternative. Today’s guest is someone who knows a lot about this subject. Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, television producer, writer, teacher, TED speaker and motivational speaker whose documentary film, “Look At Us Now, Mother!” tells the story of how Gayle and her mother transformed their difficult relationship into a healthy one. The film is funny, heart wrenching and gripping from frame to frame. And it’s become the centerpiece of a movement Gayle is building called No More Drama with Mama. Gayle Kirschenbaum, welcome to The Agewyz Podcast.
GAYLE KIRSCHENBAUM: Hi. Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
JANA: It’s great to have you on the show. So the film was inspired by an earlier short, funny film called “My Nose,” about your mother’s campaign to convince you to get a nose job. I wonder if you could just kind of take us through the reaction to the short and how it led you to start making this film, “Look At Us Now, Mother!”
GAYLE: So, my mother had wanted me to have a nose job since, according to her, my early teenage years when the bumps started to grow. And at the time and place where I grew up having a nose job was a rite of passage, so if you looked at my junior high school yearbook and my high school yearbook, essentially it’s before and after photos of noses. And I never wanted one. My nose never bothered me.
I came into this world as a very artsy person and I’m from the hippie generation, so her campaign continued for decades. And by the time I hit middle-age I said to her, okay mom, I will agree to visit three plastic surgeons with you as long as I can have a camera crew along with me. And she couldn’t care less about that. And what resulted was this funny little film called “My Nose.” And that film essentially changed my life. Because it’s a short, it played with other movies in a festival situation.
So I would be on a panel with other filmmakers, and every time I went to get off the stage there was a huge line in front of me and it got to a point I knew what they were going to say. I love your nose, don’t touch it. I can’t stand your mother. How do you even speak to her? And I’m thinking in the back of my head, you haven’t seen anything in this light, fluffy film. And then third was, let me tell you my story, because as you know we all have a story. And it wasn’t always about noses, or their nose. One woman opened up her coat to show me her weight issues, and she attributed it to her long deceased mother, and she must have been in her late sixties. And that’s when I said, oh my God, so many people are in pain. Regardless of their outward success professionally, you know, career-wise, marriage, children, materially-wise.
And that’s when I turned to my mother and I say, would you be willing to go on camera with me to work on our relationship? And she said yes. Which I wasn’t surprised, because when the nose film opened in Washington– it was in a film festival, it’s called “My Nose” — when it played in Washington DC at a festival, we ended up on the cover of the Washington Post style section. And one of the many things my mother said about my nose is that it looks like– now this is where, if you have an older audience they’ll remember this coin, the buffalo nickel, because it was the buffalo on one side and the Indian on the other side.
So it’s my profile next to that Indian’s profile, which was actually out of my film, and she does have a point. So the first line in the article the journalist wrote, if you have a mother like Gayle Kirschenbaum, you better get yourself into psychoanalysis. Well my mother read it and went, great. Bad press is better than no press. I’m on the cover of the Washington Post. Right. So I wasn’t surprised when she said yes because she loves attention at all costs.
JANA: One of the things that was really interesting to me was, after watching the documentary I read a piece that you wrote for The Forgiveness Project in which you recalled some really harsh treatment. Like you often lived in fear, not knowing what would trigger her rage. And you were even advised by a social worker to get out of the house. But the tone of the movie was really different. It didn’t sugarcoat anything, it didn’t soft-pedal anything, but it was quite different. So I wonder if you could talk about the tone of the documentary and how you got to that, because it was really well-balanced. Was that hard?
GAYLE: So I want to ask you a question. What did you feel the tone was compared to what you read on The Forgiveness post? It was more light?
JANA: It was lighter, but I attribute that to the editing and also to the music. I thought the music was really, really well done. You kind of went from circus-like music to moody jazz to haunting, and I thought that really did a good job of connecting all of the emotions.
GAYLE: Well thank you. So actually I will tell you about the editing and about what you’re saying. So I did not plan to edit this film. I had a couple of editors on board and the second one was what they call in the biz an A-list editor, which means they make a lot of money. And coincidentally this person knew people in my film. And he’s a very talented editor, but by the time he got done with it, it was very well-edited but you wanted to slit your wrist. It was so depressing. And I said to myself, you know what? I did not make this movie to destroy anybody, to vilify my mother. I’m making this movie with one motive, and that is to help people. And I am a firm believer in laughter. I believe laughter is very healing. And as you see in my film, my mother is the queen of the one-liners.
JANA: She sure is.
GAYLE: And so with her– and she’s probably today one of the funniest people I know. Of course when I grew up, she was the Wicked Witch of the West, but, um, her humor, I guess she’s happy now, and her humor came out. So I pulled out a lot of really, really dark stuff because I thought, you know what? There’s no point in this. And I didn’t add any other super dark stuff. And it’s interesting you talk about the editing, because I know you also come from the biz of telling stories using pictures and sound and words. I’m a very sensitive person, so I always imagined myself as the audience. And how do I feel at the end of the scene? Well, I might be crying. All right, that’s enough of the crying. I have to, you know, lighten up now. Let’s have a laugh. So I did map it out emotionally.
I mapped out the journey and the storytelling emotionally. I knew that I was going to want to have people go through these emotions. And it’s very interesting because I hired an old time story consultant, and he had worked with me in an earlier film. In fact, when I went to find him, I was like, oh, he’s still around. And I hired him. And the only thing he told me to take out of this film– I’m going to tell you what scene it is, it’s the scene where my mother and I go looking for a husband, where I place an ad.
JANA: I thought that might be it…!
GAYLE: Right? For a guy.
JANA: I thought that might be it. Okay, go ahead. Sorry.
GAYLE: Isn’t that funny? And he said, well it just doesn’t belong here. And you know, the movie’s played so many times in front of audiences where I was there, and they crack up and I share this and they go, no, that was.
JANA: Oh, it was hilarious.
GAYLE: Yeah. So I went with my instincts and you know, that’s the moral– I know this is not a podcast so much about creating, but my lessons learned from years of creating is, you’ll show something you’ve done– you’ve written– to five people, you’ll get five opinions. But in the end you have to trust yourself because you can go crazy, right? Listening to everybody.
JANA: Yeah. You come across in the film, too, as like so objective, like you’re really an observer rather than a daughter who’s out for revenge. And so that sort of speaks to your comment about not wanting– you didn’t go into it for that reason. But I wonder how you managed not to really break down? Maybe you have footage where you did break down and you tossed it out, but how did you manage to not break down until like almost an hour into the film? Or did you?
GAYLE: Well, I– there is a scene where I lose it, and it’s where I have a fight with her after–
JANA: –in the apartment. After the foot surgery?
GAYLE: Exactly. And you know, it was a very tense time and my dog ends up getting sick and I– well I don’t want to do spoiler alert, but it was a very tense time and yeah, no, I– that’s in there. In fact, I had friends who said, Gayle, you don’t look good. You know, why don’t you pull that? I said, I am not doing a vanity film here. I don’t care how I look. If it’s going to help people to see that I’m no angel, I can lose it. That’s going in.
JANA: Yeah. That was really brave of you too.
GAYLE: Yeah. I guess– you know what? It’s very interesting, Jana, you might appreciate this, that I– and my mother too has this ability– even though it’s about me and it’s about my mother, I can remove myself and be like the audience member, and go, is this working? Isn’t this working. And just forget about caring what I’m saying, how I look. Like, as if it’s not me. It’s this character in this film. And my mother, I’ll tell you the truth. She’s my best story consultant in everything I’ve done. Even my TED talk. I had hired a professional and that was not working out at all. She had me writing something that was going to be like a thesis, and I just read books on how to do one, and she… in the end my mother was– even though I’m writing about her– I mean, horrible– she was my best story consultant.
JANA: Yeah. I wondered if this is a film that you could have made when you were younger, because you know in a way as you get older you become– it sounds like you had a lot of confidence. You left at 17, you left your house, and not like gobs of confidence. Obviously we all have insecurities at every age. But you’ve said that this was the hardest and most important film you ever made. So at the risk of asking the obvious, what really made it hard? And did you have any idea that it would be so hard?
GAYLE: Well, I actually got sick making the film. I was struggling as a storyteller to, how am I going to take people back and not sound like just an adult complaining about my childhood? Because that’s a victim, and who likes a victim? And I remembered I had kept diaries for years. And so it took me a while to find them. I had a point where I thought, well that must have gotten thrown out because I moved so much. And I found a box. And I sat down and read it, and because I was always an artist and drawing. So there were journals that had sketches in it, you know, there were images that look like Edvard Munch, you know, a mad suicidal woman. And so I re-read them, and I relived the trauma. And it came out through an autoimmune illness, which came out through my hands.
And I didn’t realize that that was what was happening. I thought I just had another skin problem type thing. And for four years I ran to dermatologists, heads of dermatology departments, I was given all kinds of meds and topicals and even laser treatment. And it wasn’t doing anything. And I ran, I’m here in New York City. I ran to Chinatown and found a Chinese herbalist and he, too, tried to help, but it was a little help and then it bounced back, the problem. And then you know what I did? And this was like a number of years, and my dog had died so I was alone. I was alone in every way. You know, I’m single and I didn’t have a partner at the time. And so when I lived in Los Angeles, which now is a number of years ago, I had this amazing doctor, he’s a combo acupuncturist and chiropractor named Dr. Will.
You always want to go to a doctor named Dr. Will. And I sent him the pictures, because I had no fingerprints. My hands were thick with plaque and split and bleeding, and I had to wear vinyl gloves. Yeah. I mean, it’s disgusting. I had to wear gloves because it was so painful and, you know, our hands are in everything. And I remember I was going for a global entry card, and I went to the airport… you know, I had no fingerprints. And I also thought, well wow, if and when I have someone in my life again, I won’t be able to touch them or feel them. And that’s like, you know, so important and something I’m gifted at. So I sent him the photographs of my hands. And he writes back, you need love. I said, well, you know, I’m alone now.
And he goes, what about your dog? I go, she died. And he goes, well you need to trick yourself. And that’s all I needed to hear. I knew what he was saying to me. He was saying I had to change my thoughts. I had to release all this pain. I had to release it and I had to change how I looked at my mother and my family, because it wasn’t just my mother. She led the pack, but everybody– she taught them how to bully me, and then they took over. And that continued for decades. So I had to work on that, and I put my own program together. Like I learned EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, tapping, and I got tapes of a shegaon master and I started meditating. And I just started doing this every day, twice a day. And then little patches of skin would come back.
GAYLE: Yes. So it proved to me something very powerful: that we can get ourselves sick, and we can heal ourselves. And that we are incredibly powerful, and if there’s anything I need to get across to the world is, we need to go to the source of the problem. When this doctor at the Beth Israel hospital was lasering my fingers and it was doing nothing, we were having discussion. He goes, well, you know, Western medicine only treats the symptoms, it doesn’t get to the source. So I’m a believer in you have to get to the source.
JANA: Yeah. Wow. How long did it take you to make this film? There’s so much footage. I mean there’s so much.
GAYLE: Yeah. No– I had like 250 hours of footage. I can, you know, keep going with another film and another film. And I am still shooting now because everyone’s saying where’s the sequel? But I would say I ran my first Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2011, and then the film was finished in 2014. I ran another campaign around then. So it took so long because of me doing everything. Although I had a lot of helping hands with transcribing, and it was so much footage. But yeah. And I was digging up people, finding relatives I didn’t know existed. It’s been great because you know, there’s so many family secrets. Everybody’s family has family secrets, right? And then you’ll frequently get an answer: I don’t know, I don’t remember. And so that led me into digging deeper, getting vital records of family members, which I can then calculate dates of births and deaths, and start putting the picture together and finding family members I never even knew existed, that were my mother’s first cousin, who–
JANA: –and they lived so close by.
GAYLE: Yeah. So it’s been great in the sense of, I have met so many people now, or at least connected by email or whatever, who are super close on the family tree that I didn’t even know existed.
JANA: Yeah. I also really liked how you incorporated your mother’s letters to your dad when he was at war. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’m not giving away so much that you’re not going to want to see this film because it’s so rich and layered. But I like that you gave her letters their due as well. And one question that I had for you is, there was a scene where you had your mom on the phone and then it dissolved to a sketch of your mom on the phone. I wondered, was that your sketch? Did you draw that?
GAYLE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
JANA: Oh, gosh, that was really amazing.
GAYLE: All the art in there was mine. And from very young years, I mean, young teenage years. That was in, like, one of the diaries. You know, I just found a lot of stuff.
JANA: So I guess I should get back to sort of the theme of the movie. And you kind of alluded to this before, but what does it take to find forgiveness? For you it was the recognition that even your parents have unresolved issues. But I wonder if you could just sort of speak to that, what it takes?
GAYLE: Yeah. Well, you know, I teach forgiveness, I do workshops and now I do them virtually because I hear from people all over. And my next one is coming up on June 23rd, and it’s only responding to a need. Because I hear so many stories and see so many people in pain. So there’s three main steps. I have seven. But just to narrow it down for time’s sake, the first thing is you need to understand the person who is being so hurtful to you. So it’s digging into their past. And my film is my journey to find out what happened. Because trauma goes back seven generations, and if we don’t stop it, it continues seven generations below us. So I dug. I dug. I found records, I found people, I found out about things that were kept hidden, and about the hardships of her childhood, or essentially the childhood she never had.
But a big turning point for me was when I was invited to play a psychological board game with a woman who had a horrific childhood. And now in her healing, she was a facilitator of this forgiveness board game. And you throw the dice, you move it, and wherever it lands, you have to do whatever it says. And the only thing I actually remember from that day was when she said, okay, now stand up and close your eyes. Imagine your mother as a little girl. So at that point, I had already dug up a lot information from her past and had heard about, you know, untimely death and suicide attempts and financial hardships. So I saw a wounded little girl. Then she said, now, imagine yourself as a little girl. And I was a wounded little girl. And the next thing she said is, now you come together.
And that was a huge lightbulb moment for me. She was no longer my mother. She was a wounded little girl, like I was a wounded little girl. And so once I was able to see her as a wounded little girl, then I was able to change my expectations. Because what gets us so upset in life is unfulfilled expectations. So I went from looking at her as my mother and all those expectations that are attached to that: she should love me, she should nurture me, you know, as I witnessed her loving and nurturing my brothers… she should be there for me. Instead, she was now this wounded little girl who went through all this pain. So by changing that, I changed my expectations, and realized what do wounded little children need? What does anyone who’s wounded need? What do we all need?
It’s love. And particularly someone who’s wounded. You know that if somebody’s acting up and not being kind to other people, that’s because you’re not feeling the love. And I always say, think about yourself. When does one get a little snappy? A little quick, a little, you know, reactive? We’re not feeling the love, right? If we were coming from a place of love, we wouldn’t be reacting, and being quick and nasty or sharp or whatever– impatient. So first I had to understand her by looking to her past. I looked at her past, I saw all the pain she went through. Then I changed how I looked at her. So that’s called reframing. And I now reframed how I looked at her. I went from, she’s my mother, to she’s a wounded child. And with that reframing comes you change your expectations. She was incapable of giving me love and being like a mother, okay?
And now that I saw this wounded little child, and I saw her that way, I felt empathy for her. And that led me to forgiveness. Because you forgive for yourself. You don’t forgive for anybody else. And you don’t wait for that person to ever say they’re sorry because they’re clueless. In many cases– not always– but in many cases they’re not even aware of what they’re doing. So we forgive for ourselves. And we never forget, but we forgive for ourselves. And that’s what I say: the biggest gift we can give in life, is our ability to forgive. So these tools that I learned, starting with my mother, I had to apply to my brothers, and I apply to other people. It’s just this method. Once you know how to forgive, then you can emotionally get out of any situation and come out with your power.
JANA: Yeah. And I think in particular for folks who listen to this podcast, one of the things that is good about this approach is that, it should be a two-way street but it doesn’t have to be. The other person may never get there with you, but you can get there on your own and be okay with the relationship. You’re not dependent on them for you to find that level of happiness, if you want to call it that. Contentedness.
GAYLE: Right. Well, freedom. You find freedom.
JANA: Freedom– yeah, that’s the word.
GAYLE: When you forgive you find freedom. But the other thing is, a lot of people, that person who hurt them so much– and frequently it’s the parent, and frequently it’s the mother– could be long-deceased, and they’re hanging onto that anger. And they feel like it’s too late. It’s never too late. Meaning for you to do the work– for one to do the work– and change how they look at that person and forgive them. You’re setting yourself free. So yeah, it’s about going through these steps and doing it yourself. That’s it. You do it for yourself, with yourself. And in the cases where people say, well, I can’t find any information. Everybody’s gone, or you know, nothing exists. Then just conclude in your own mind that this person, unless they suffer from some chemical imbalance like schizophrenia or something like that… but if it’s not a chemical imbalance like that, but they had a lot of cruelty from a parent who has– they can have a personality disorder. And usually it’s a narcissistic parent. Just assume that they themselves are wounded. Just imagine them as a wounded child. And for sure they had issues in their own childhood.
JANA: Your mom makes a really good point that… well, you both make this point. You make the point that there are so many people who don’t have this ability to talk to their parents the way that you talk with your mom. And Mildred, your mom, can’t stand it that in her senior community there are so many parents who don’t talk to their children. I love that scene. And I love when she says, “I can’t figure out why they don’t talk to each other!” But you guys, you know, this was one of the big things that helped you. That even if it was badgering or poking you, at least we’re communicating in a really honest way. I suppose that really helps.
GAYLE: Yeah. You know there are people that avoid confrontation and my mother’s not one of them, and I’m not either.
JANA: I’ll say.
GAYLE: So, there was always communication. I would say there was probably a two-week period in my life when I was suppose to go in for sinus surgery, and she just got on me for that nose job. You know– “they’re going to be right in there.” And it was relentless to the point of, I just can’t even speak to her now. But no, we did always communicate. But what I want to actually say on that topic, that we were talking about adult children and their parents being divorced… what’s happening is, it’s more the children are divorcing the parents. They reached a point where they had, and so that’s destroying the family unit.
Because if one person had it with their mother and now they have their own children, and they stopped having contact with their mother or parents, well guess what? Their child and kids won’t have any grandparents on her side. So it’s destroying the family unit and it’s horrible. So yes, I am all about intervention. And that’s my thing: to intervene and work through this stuff so there aren’t any regrets, because you know, when you live with regrets, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t change a regret. So that mother dies, gets sick and dies, or that elderly parent gets sick and dies, and you wanted to connect with them and heal that relationship? You could forgive them in death, but you won’t have had time together. Like people say to me all the time, you are so lucky. Because you know, my mother and I are now the closest friends. And we travel once a year. She’s going to be 96. We just got back from South America.
JANA: Is she still driving?
GAYLE: Oh yes. And driving people crazy. But yes, she’s still driving. Yes, yes, yes. But she doesn’t bother me about my nose. These things– you’re all over, decades of it is done.
JANA: Wow. Do you think that she ever expected to get from the film what she got what it looks like she got from the film? I mean, it’s so sweet when she says, “it’s a therapeutic movie. I’m happy we’re friends.” Do you think she was surprised by that?
GAYLE: By her saying that herself?
JANA: By discovering that you became friends.
GAYLE: I don’t know. I’m not sure, but I will say, and a lot of people ask me this, how did your mother react to the film? And how is her life post the film? And she saw the film the first time in a very private screening of a hundred people, and there was a standing ovation, she comes to the stage and she looks at the audience. She goes, “I never knew I was such a bitch.” And then at the party–there was a little party afterwards– people are coming over at her and going, so what’s your next picture? And true to my mother’s form she says, “porn.”
I told you. She’s like– one of the journalists, I think it was someone who wrote a piece in Psychology Today. I can’t remember. One of the journalists wrote and called my mother a geriatric shock jock. I thought, wow — perfect description. Yeah, she has no censor. But she’s kind of become a little bit of a mom star. She gets sighted, she gets recognized. She’ll go, ah– Gayle, this woman spotted me today and said, you’re that mother. You’re the most likable bitch. And so I was like, oh, I have to take you out. And then somebody– she was so funny… I guess this woman spotted her in her Boca Raton area and said, I saw the movie and I saw it with my sister, and she says, ach, my sister cried the whole film through because she had a horrible relationship with her mother. And so this woman’s like going on and on and on and on about her child. So my mother said, “she kept going on and on and on.” She goes, “this notoriety is exhausting!”
JANA: She can’t stand the hordes of admirers. It’s too much.
GAYLE: Yeah, because, you know, you have to listen to people’s stories. And yeah, she’s so funny.
JANA: Right. Your mom had a real journey of her own– of discovery. She seemed to really be blossoming in a way, especially when you traveled to France. I wonder if you could comment on how she changed over the course of your making this move.
GAYLE: Yeah. Well, it’s so interesting. I don’t know if it was over the course or more afterwards from actually being together during Q and A’s, and talk-backs and her hearing me talk, and share things and insights. Because I’ve seen her say to audiences, “well, what I’ve learned from Gayle, I had this incident,” and she’ll talk about with somebody else, you know? Maybe another family member. Where her normal reaction would be to snap back, and you know, how I’ve taught her how to process what people say and how to come from a positive place. So yeah, it’s been sort of interesting to hear her, um, her growth from that point of view. But you know, it’s interesting because you know, we’re all the same people it’s just that, you know, we adjust our levels, right? You know, it’s like we have a tune-up and we adjust our levels.
But who we are is who we are. So I came into this world a very sensitive and intuitive person, into essentially a family that wasn’t very sensitive or that intuitive. And I don’t know if you believe it or your listeners believe it, but I feel like I came into this world an old soul, into a family of new souls. So a lot of people say, like you said, you seem confident. Well, here’s the deal. I knew when I was being attacked from my earliest memories because you know, she said as you saw, she thought she’s having Gary and told everyone Gary was going to come home from the hospital, and she ended up having Gayle. And one would think after two boys you have a girl, and you know, you win the lottery. But narcissistic women tend to do much better with sons than daughters.
So in any event, I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong. I just existed and there was so much anger towards me. So at a really young age, I wanted to know why do people do what they do? And I just always assumed you have to go back into their past. Why do people behave the way they behave? What makes us do things? And I always knew from a really young age you have to go back into the past. And I remember trying to get her brother– she had one brother, my uncle Sonny– and I would go, what happened, you know, in your childhood? And you know, I never got any answers to my constant questions. Because there was a time I was really Cinderella. I was– this is not my family. I was adopted. Remember, I started the film with, did you ever feel that you were born into the wrong family?
JANA: That was such a shocking statement to see straight-away. It really set the tone.
GAYLE: Yeah. Which apparently is extremely relatable to many people. So when it was confirmed in my mind that, in fact, I was a biological child, I had to figure out, what is going on here? So the good news is, as always being criticized and all the really bad things were happening, I knew that it wasn’t me, so it didn’t affect my self-esteem in, like, body image. I was being ripped apart from head to toe, you know, starting literally with my hair, you know, all the way down to my feet. I had problems with my feet.
So even when I was very thin, and I’m certainly not heavy now, I was being called fat and Shamu the Whale, and The Beast– that was one of my brothers’ training as children. My mother’s like, who would go out with you, with your fat neck and your big butt? And you’re this…. so it hurt. It was not pleasurable. But I knew that, that is their problem not mine. But my pain and my scars, that, you know they exist. They don’t go away. You deal with them. You work with them.
It’s that not getting love, and not feeling I could trust. Because if this is my mother and this is my family and they treat me like this– I used to joke, you know, with my family who needs enemies? So it’s like, well, it’s no accident I’m still not married. But I have hope! I am defintely convinced I’m going to meet someone and tie the knot. And believe me, I’ve had great relationships, I haven’t sat alone for all these years. But yeah, I think that’s where my deepest scars are.
JANA: Well, you came across as being a lot like your mother’s mother, Nana. Your Nana Tillie.
GAYLE: Oh yes. Yes.
JANA: So I know that you said in the film that you really related to her and missed her deeply when she died in ’89… or whenever it was. So immediately I thought oh, okay. So that’s who she is, in the larger constellation of this family. That’s really who Gayle is more like.
GAYLE: It’s interesting because my grandmother, and we all know this as far as being women of her generation, there weren’t choices. In fact, the marriage was arranged, and it wasn’t a love marriage with my grandfather, and she suffered so much due to what happened to him. And then there’s my mother’s generation, where okay, it wasn’t arranged, but it wasn’t like she had the choices that I had. She was smart. She is very smart. In many ways she’s one of the smartest people I know, in certain areas. No emotional intelligence, do not put her in the UN, we’ll be in be in World War III. But other–I mean, she’s a sharp investor. She’s got a lot of talent. So– which I don’t.
She has talents in areas that I don’t have the chip for it. But you know of her generation, particularly coming from a poor family, she didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. So mothers of baby boomer women? There’s a big generation gap between baby boomer women and our mothers. Because we as a generation, as a whole were– of course there’s exceptions– were like the first generation where we went to college. We were able to go to college. We were able to have careers. We were able to make choices that we did. Whereas with my mother’s generation– again, there are plenty of women that did– but on the whole? No. They got a job, they got married. You heard my mother say, you know, You want to have sex? You get married.
JANA: My mom said exactly the same thing.
GAYLE: Oh, really? That’s so funny.
GAYLE: Yeah, my mother goes, look at all the fun I missed out on. My father said, I married a wild woman.
JANA: The life of the party. She’s the party
GAYLE: Well today she is a partygoer. She is the leader of her pack, and all her friends are like 30 to 20 years younger, or maybe 10, and she’s the designated– you asked me if she drives? She’s the designated driver. And these people years younger: this one’s afraid to drive, this one’s a bad driver at night. And she does bars. She teaches them how to go to the bar, she sits in the middle, she talks to everyone. She loves to drink. She loves to drink and drive.
JANA: Oh, boy.
GAYLE: She’s very proud of it. Yeah. No, she’s a force. She’s a force. And her memory’s better than mine. Her vision is better than mine. So yes.
JANA: Well, you know they say once you make it to 90, you know, all bets are off. The hardest thing to do is to get to 90. And then going forward, you know, you could live another 10 years, 15 even, maybe. Who knows?
GAYLE: And her cousin, who was the elder of those three, died very recently. She was doing great at a hundred and one, and they took her away to Hilton Head or something, it’s Hilton Head, right? For one week of nonstop celebration. And she came home, she got bronchitis and she was dealing with it. But she was doing well, and then she had a stroke and that was it.
JANA: Well, here’s my last question. In the film, you really express concern for your mother’s future, and you want her to plan ahead so she can do the things she wants to do. And she, shockingly, says, I don’t see why I have to make a decision this minute. So maybe talk about what the future holds for Mildred in your eyes and in her eyes. Are you worried about her?
GAYLE: No, because now I know what’s going to happen. Now I know what’s going on. What we’re doing. She’s going to stay in her house. She has an incredible community and support of so many people there and friends. And if I moved her… I mean as long as she’s of sound mind, okay? And this is what she says herself. As long as she’s of sound mind, she makes her own decisions. And I will second it that she stays in her house. If and when she can’t drive, then you get a driver, use Uber– oh, she’s very tech savvy by the way. She’s got an iPad, an iPhone…
JANA: I noticed that.
GAYLE: Yeah, and far beyond from then. If I want to upset my mother and watch her have a temper tantrum, I take away her iPad. She plays her games, her Words With Friends, her Candy Crush.
JANA: She’s like a kid.
GAYLE: She’s like my kid. I love it. So yeah, she’s staying there. Because she’s got all these friends, and you know, community is what keeps us living. When we have community, right?
JANA: Absolutely. Right. And is it a planned community? Is it a retirement home? I didn’t get a sense of that from the film.
GAYLE: So it’s not a 50 plus. It’s a gated community. It’s a country club. She goes and– she calls it work. She does bridge and Canasta and Mahjong and [unintelligible]. You know what? She’s like doing– you know, she’s doing double-shifting.
JANA: She has a full schedule.
GAYLE: She’s doing something in the morning…
JANA: Yeah, she has a full schedule.
GAYLE: I wish I had her social life. She’s nonstop. Then that backs into four o’clock, and what’s at four o’clock, Jana? Happy Hour! And she’s– you know, that’s great!
JANA: Good for her. That’s great.
GAYLE: So she goes nonstop. Well, I have told her she should donate her body to science because not only is her brain so young, her body– I mean, physically…
JANA: She looks great.
GAYLE: Her breasts are more perky than mine and I never had children. So what’s wrong with this picture? So she’s a phenomenon in every way. Definitely.
JANA: Yeah. Bless her heart. Well you guys are just wonderful in the film and it’s such an amazing film. Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you want to add? Do you have any last thoughts?
GAYLE: I just want to share one thing about her character that I think sums it up. You know, she owned a travel agency in New York for many years, and she’s still a functioning travel agent. So, she’ll book things for people. She books flights and things, you know, very, very, very part-time.
So she works through an agency in Florida. So apparently one day she was in the office, and this is a while ago, and I guess somebody she had dealt with was annoyed with her and calls back and says, I want to talk to Mildred’s boss. And they go, like, they want to talk to your boss. She has no boss. She picks up the phone, she goes: the only person I report to is God. I tell ya, that says her character right in that little story.
JANA: I’ll say.
GAYLE: So if you want to cry and laugh you’ll find it there. So I do want to say one thing. I want to say that if anybody’s interested in this topic and has issues with a child or a parent or somebody, not only watch the film, watch my TED talk– it’s a TEDx, if they go to my website. And then I have this workshop coming up. It’s June 23rd and you just need a computer, or someone once did it from their iPhone, but it’s very intimate. I keep it very small and we get a lot of work done. And it’s like a 10 to 4 with lots of breaks during the day, but it’s very healing. We do a lot of stuff, so it’s good.
JANA: We’ve been speaking with Gayle Kirschenbaum, writer, director and producer of the documentary film, “Look At Us Now, Mother!” — about Gayle’s journey of transformation with her mother, from an emotionally abusive relationship to a healthy one. We will have a link on the Agewyz website to Gayle’s website where you can watch the trailer for the film, access links to the full film and find out how Gayle can help you transform your own tough relationship through forgiveness. Gayle, thank you so much for being on the show and for making this amazing movie. I’m probably going to watch it again a few more times. Thanks.
GAYLE: Thank you. It’s been great to speak to you.